Isaiah’s Creative Hebrew

This week’s ‘Haftarah’ – weekly prophet’s portion – is found in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 54 and speaks about the Lord’s comfort for Zion which manifested itself in the eternal covenant of peace. This week prophet’s portion begins with the following verse:

“”Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:1)

The image of the ‘barren one’ (‘Akarah’ {עקרה} in Hebrew) that appears in the verse above and refers to Zion, was chosen carefully and can be found many more times in the Bible.

The three matriarchs of Israel – Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel were all barren at first and then received the grace of God and had children – who later on became the founders of the people of Israel!

In other words, the Prophet Isaiah compared Zion to the other famous barren women in the Bible – who eventually bore children who changed the course of history – in order to suggest that the same glorious thing will happen to Zion as well!

One of the most striking things that can be found in Isaiah’s speech, is the Hebrew play on words on the words involving the word ‘Shomemah’ (שוממה) which was translated to English as ‘the desolate one’ and has a double meaning in Hebrew: a woman who is unmarried and has no children on the one hand, and a city/country which utterly ruined and abandoned by its inhabitants.